Some psychology experiments conducted in the past would seem creepy and unethical to today’s people. Here are 4 of them.
It is true to say that psychology is not an exact science. To this end, psychology experiments have been used to quantify data and bring about qualitative results that can be understood by everyone.
These days any experiment that is carried out has to adhere to strict ethical guidelines, but this was not always the case. In fact, not so long ago psychologists were carrying out studies that would simply not have passed an ethics board in today’s society. And we are not talking hundreds of years ago, some cases are a mere 40 years.
These creepy psychology experiments taught us a great deal about human nature but would not be allowed in the 21st century.
Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Studies
In order to find out how so many people followed the German dictator Adolf Hitler and carried out the worst atrocities of the Second World War, Stanley Milgram devised an experiment at Yale University in 1963.
A participant was asked to shock a subject he or she could hear next door if they did not recall a correct list of words. The subject was in on the experiment and was not actually getting shocked but cried out whenever the participant used the switch to deliver an electrical shock.
As the study progressed, the participant was asked to deliver higher and higher volts of electricity with levers labelled in 15-volt increments. The top levels of shocks were marked as “Danger: Severe Shock”. The subject would call out saying that he had a heart condition and he could not take anymore, then it would go quiet.
It was revealed that nearly 65% of the participants continued to obey the experimenter to deliver the maximum 450 volts because the lead experimenter told them to. Milgram deduced that these people were not sadistic, they were just socialised to follow orders, as were the German officers.
Stanford Prison Experiments
In 1971, in an effort to understand the psychological effects of perceived power and control, Philip Zimbardo rounded up college students from Stanford University and put them in jail.
The students had volunteered and were paid for the study, but those who were to be prisoners were surprised at their homes and handcuffed and taken in prison vans where they were stripped, given smocks and ID numbers and housed in a basement prison block. The guards were simply told to enforce the rules.
After a very short while, it became apparent that the guards were behaving sadistically to the prisoners, taking on their roles with gusto and humiliating the prisoners at every opportunity.
The prisoners became more and more depressed and in the end, the experiment had to be called off after only 6 days.
In 1958, in order to test attachment theory and how it related to human babies, Harry Harlow devised a set of experiments using rhesus monkeys, which are similar to humans and bond in the same way.
In the experiment, he devised several different scenarios with eight monkeys. Some monkeys were reared with no mother, others were separated immediately from birth and placed in cages where there were two surrogate mothers. One was made of wire and was uncomfortable but had a feeding bottle attached, the other was made of soft material but with no bottle.
The results showed that the monkeys were so desperate for affection that they stayed with the cloth mother for longer periods, despite the wire mother offering sustenance.
Many of the monkeys tested using Harlow’s methods suffered terribly and were unable to mix with others when they were finally released from the experiment.
In the 1920’s, scientist John Watson wanted to test his theory that one could induce a phobia through classical conditioning. He used an 11-month old boy now referred to as Little Albert, who had shown a fear of loud noises but nothing else.
Watson wanted to see if by conditioning, Little Albert would become afraid of a stimulus that would normally not provoke a response in the boy. It was known that Little Albert loved to play with small animals so he was given a white rat to play with, but every time he did, Watson banged a steel rod very loudly with a hammer which frightened Little Albert, and he grew to associate the fear with the rat.
Moreover, his association generalized to other objects that were similar, such as Watson’s white hair and a Santa Claus mask. Although Watson had proved he could induce a phobia by conditioning, he was widely criticised, particularly as he never reversed Little Albert’s fears.